Practical Ecommerce

2013 Holiday Ecommerce Preparedness Checklist

Online Christmas sales should top $50 billion in the United States in 2013, according to some estimates. To get your store’s fair share, be certain that your ecommerce website is ready for business.

Imagine walking into a brick-and-mortar store on Black Friday only to find that the shopkeeper hasn’t swept in months. There are cobwebs on some of the products, and if you did want to buy something, the cash register is broken. This sort of run down shop would probably not contribute to a great holiday sales season. The same could be said for an online store that is not ready for a rush of holiday shoppers.

Here is a checklist to see if your Internet store is ready for Christmas 2013.

Have Clear Christmas-season Goals

Sales guru Zig Zigler tells his students that “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” The idea, of course, is that if you really want to succeed at anything, you need to set goals and work to achieve those goals.

A checklist like this one is meant to get you thinking about your business and the areas of your website that might need updates or improvements. But again any change that you make should be in the context of trying to achieve some stated business goal.

The first step toward having your website prepared for holiday sales is decide what, exactly, you want to accomplish: more sales, higher profits, more customers, something else? I’ve addressed setting and tracking goals previously, at “Ecommerce Know-how: Setting SMART Goals and Measuring Success.”

Ensure that Product Descriptions and Images Are Correct

Written product descriptions and good-quality product images are vital to ecommerce success, especially during the holiday shopping season.

Try to look at each product description and ask a few questions.

  • Does it accurately describe the product?
  • Does it explain product features and benefits?
  • Does it define large words or technical terms?
  • Are all of the words spelled correctly?
  • Is the product description punctuated correctly?
  • Is the font readable on screen?

If you have to answer “no” to any of these questions, you may want to update the product description. You can get tips about writing a good product description in “How to Write Product Descriptions that Sell, Boost SEO Efforts,” my previous article.

For product images, ask some of these questions.

  • Is the image clear and in focus?
  • Is the product properly lit?
  • Does the photo show current packaging?
  • Would the image make you want to buy the product?

Again, if you have to answer “no” to some of these questions, consider updating product images before the Christmas shopping season.

Consider Adding Some Structured Data

“One of the biggest pitfalls most marketers experience is only focusing on the number of visitors without taking into consideration the number of search impressions,” wrote Brent Gleeson and Jeff Oxford of Internet Marketing Inc. in a Forbes article.

To improve the value of search impressions, Gleeson and Oxford, suggest adding microdata to the HTML markup on your website. This microdata provides search engines like Google or Bing with information about the structure of your content, which in turn may lead to better information on search engine results pages.

As an example, a recent search for “Raspberry Pi Board” on Google netted the expected page full of results. The Amazon entry was the first shopping-related result to show up, but it was a result from MCM Electronics that stood out. That result had reviews and a price included right there on the Google results page.

Structured microdata tags may improve how your page information is shown on search results pages.

Structured microdata tags may improve how your page information is shown on search results pages.

According to Gleeson and Oxford, this sort of result is possible using the schemas from Working with a developer, implementing tag attributes is certainly something that could be done ahead of the Christmas shopping season, and it may significantly improve how your store preforms in search.

Get Ready for Mobile Commerce

Mobile commerce is likely be to the fasting growing ecommerce segment this year. So it is almost a must that your website is mobile friendly.

At present, the best possible solution is to have a responsive site design that adapts to a site visitor’s device, including serving up right-sized images for better performance over the mobile Internet. This will take a bit of time, but a good developer should be able to help you get your site mobile ready in just the next couple of months.

If you want a really fast and easy mobile solution, consider services like Shopgate, which for an initial set up fee of between $299 and $1,499, plus monthly and transactional fees, can have a mobile site and application ready in just over a month.

Have a Chat Option

Ecommerce can be a much more convenient way to shop than visiting the mall or a big box store. One of the few exceptions, however, arises when a customer has a question about a product, shipping options, or even delivery date.

For the holiday 2013 shopping season, add live chat to your site so that visitors can ask questions when they have them. Even if you can only provide that chat service for a few hours a day, it is still better than forcing customers to always use email and wait for a response.

If you need more convincing, read my previous article, “Live Chat Can Improve Service, Sales.”

Have Your Christmas Graphics Ready Before the Rush

This is the time to begin preparing holiday site graphics. If, as an example, you were planning to add some holly to your logo, try to create the graphic in September or in October, not on Cyber Monday, when you should be focused on customer service and processing orders.

Also, if you are planning to use a freelance designer to help with holiday graphics and banners, you’ll want to let her get started soon.

Clearly Post Product Availability

Holiday shoppers want to know that an item is in stock before placing an order.

Imagine that you have just found the perfect gift for a niece or nephew, you place the order online, and moments later an email arrives informing you that the item is backordered and should arrive in January.

Don’t do that to your customers Instead, make certain that your product detail page includes accurate availability information. This does not need to be a real-time inventory count, simply saying “In Stock” can be enough.

Amazon shows an items availability.

Amazon shows an item’s availability.

Be Prepared to Offer Shipping Estimates

Most holiday shoppers will want items to arrive before December 25.

Early shoppers placing orders in October or even November are probably going to assume that their products will arrive well ahead of the deadline. As Christmas Day approaches, shoppers will become increasingly concerned about delivery dates and may opt for relatively more expensive shipping services in order to ensure that something arrives on time. In many cases, they will even forego free ground shipping, which might save you some money.

To help these shoppers, make certain that your site displays estimated shipping and delivery dates at checkout.

Post Guarantees, Policies

The same shoppers who may be worried about delivery dates might also be concerned about return policies, pricing guarantees, or even gift wrapping options.

Make certain that your website has written policies and that those policies are easy to find and read. To see an example of a site that does this sort of thing well, check out Design Public. Notice the “Our Guarantee” section at the bottom of the page.

Design Public does a good job of sharing policies and promises.

Design Public does a good job of sharing policies and promises.

Offer Alternative Payment Methods

Payment processor WorldPay has reported that 4 out of 10 online shoppers would rather use an alternative payment method — like PayPal or Google Wallet — when shopping online.

If you don’t already, consider adding these services to your site. If given a choice between your store and one of your competitors, a shopper might choose the shop that lets her pay the way she wants to.

You might also consider promoting PayPal’s Bill Me Later service, wherein you, the merchant, gets paid immediately, but your customer has up to six months to pay. This sort of financing may be important to some shoppers this holiday season.

Check for Patches, Updates

As a final step to ensure that your ecommerce website is ready for the 2013 holiday shopping season, check for updates and patches.

For example, the United States Postal Service recently changed its shipping application programming interface. The change meant that some ecommerce sites need to update or lose the ability to offer Priority Mail as a shipping option.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Smartgift September 10, 2013 Reply

    Great tips, Armando. You raise a good point with the structured data and SEO, as a lot of retailers are thinking only about how to spruce up their e-commerce store’s front end appearance. Marketing and IT need to work hand-in-hand to implement tactics that increase sales, decrease cart abandonment and returns, as well as increase SEO and allow brands to analyze data on the back end. Parsing big data and understanding what products are popular and selling well when the season kicks off allows brands to plan effective promotions through the entire holidays.

  2. Erin Scoulio September 23, 2013 Reply

    Kudos – A very resourceful article! Each segment offers great suggestions to implement, except for one in the Mobile Commerce portion which I think is an overkill (spending between $299 and $1,499, plus monthly and transactional fees). The reason why I think it is an overkill is because most e-commerce website platforms now offer automatic re-direct to a buil-in mobile version of the same website which is m-commerce enabled. Therefore, there really is no need for a separate mobile website (nor a separate domain ending in, “.mobi”).

    Mobile commerce is definitely growing but not worth getting and maintaining a separate website altogether. Here is an insightful link to a mobile commerce article at the website I signed up with:

  3. Bryn A September 24, 2013 Reply

    Awesome article, Armando! To touch more on the point of mobile, there are a lot of ways you can prepare specifically for the mobile audience. Chances are, when coming from a mobile device, they’re in a hurry, and looking for a quick, easy check out process. At Yottaa we’ve put together a list of mobile performance optimization techniques to implement for the holiday season:

    Hope this is helpful! Thanks!

  4. Angela Tripp October 4, 2013 Reply

    To avoid the “cash register is broken” syndrome that Armando refers to, we advise our clients to plan for failure when it comes to their hosting infrastructure. Huge unpredictable traffic spikes can cripple traditional infrastructure, which is why the pay-as-you go model of cloud computing has made it the preferred infrastructure for mobile apps, websites and marketing campaigns. Stories of sites that go down during the holidays (and other times such as SuperBowl) are too numerous to count, but we’ve highlighted several of these “success disasters” and compiled tips from cloud experts on how ecommerce companies can ensure that the cash register (that is, the shopping cart) remains functional during the holiday retail season:

  5. Jacki October 5, 2013 Reply

    Great article! We are linking to this particularly great post on our website. Keep up the great writing.

  6. Laurence Caro November 4, 2013 Reply

    Great article Armando. I have actually just posted a blog on the same subject but missed a few that you highlight.

    Here is my list:

    Thanks for sharing!


  7. Jesse November 11, 2013 Reply

    Thanks Armando for mentioning mobile commerce which we know is expected to make up 16% of all ecommerce sales this holiday season. We go into detail about holiday readiness for online shops in regards to mobile commerce and other important areas in a new holiday ebook we recently released at Shopgate that could be interesting for readers of this post looking for tips on boosting holiday sales: